If you have received a phone call from what seems to be a local number, or even that of a family member or friend, only to discover that the call is an automated recording or has been placed by a stranger, you are on the receiving end of a widespread and malicious practice.
Robocalls, and the practice of spoofing, which allows bad actors to generate a number with your area code to bypass call blockers in an attempt to trick you into divulging personal or financial information, have become the scourge of phone usage. Nearly 48 billion robocalls were placed nationwide last year; already this year there have been an estimated 25 billion. This amounts to an average of 76 unsolicited calls per person nationwide in 2019, with some people receiving many more.
I’ve heard from many of you in recent months regarding the frustration and anxiety that comes with being targeted by unsolicited phone calls. I have also been frustrated and recently ignored for several hours a call from my bank investigating credit card fraud because I thought it was a robocall.
The negative effects of robocalls and spoofing are many. Beyond being an insufferable nuisance, robocalls are deployed as part of scams that defraud consumers, disrupt our medical centers, and erode trust within communities.
Last year, Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts received more than 4,500 calls during a two-hour period, an assault that disrupted communications for hours.
Disruptions like these can delay treatment and compromise a medical center staff’s ability to respond in real time to life and death situations. The staffs have no choice but to answer these calls; there is no way to tell whether or not the call is legitimate until they pick up the phone.
As individuals we are faced with a similar dilemma. Spoofing calls often appear to be coming from a local bank, hospital, or even family member. Ignoring the call carries the risk of missing a time sensitive message regarding your health, finances, or the welfare of a loved one.
As legislators in Congress, it is important that we work with agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and service providers to implement solutions to this problem.
With that in mind, the FCC recently proposed rules which would update its anti-spoofing provisions under the RAY BAUM’S Act, which prohibits spoofing calls or texts originating outside the United States (Ray Baum was a friend of mine, and I was proud to support this legislation which carried his name). These were not covered by prior legislation.
Additionally, while the FCC had rules in place allowing service providers to block certain calls before they reached consumers’ phones, they passed rules last month updating this policy. Previous rules did not cover cases in which bad actors spoofed in service numbers, and they failed to address instances where the robocalls did not actually spoof numbers at all. The rules passed last month also allow service providers to start offering call-blocking services as a default rather than requiring that consumers opt-in to those services.
If your service provider offers the default call blocking service, you would automatically be enrolled in the program and your service provider would then be required to provide you with information on the program via their website, text messages, or an insert in your bill so you could choose to remain in the program.
While measures taken by the FCC are helpful, new legislation may bridge the gap between existing laws and the practices of the bad actors behind spoofing and robocalls.
To that end, I am co-sponsoring H.R. 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.
This legislation would require service providers to implement call authentication technology to restore the reliability of consumer caller IDs, allow carriers to offer call blocking services at no additional charge to the consumer, direct the FCC to issue new rules protecting consumers from unsolicited calls, and ensure that the FCC has the tools necessary to pursue swift action against robocallers once they have been identified.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology recently passed H.R. 3375 on to the full committee, and I look forward to passing the legislation in the full Committee and on the floor of the House of Representatives. Hopefully after that, it will be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President.
Annoying robocalls and the practice of spoofing should not be allowed to continue, and I am working with Democrats and Republicans alike to address this issue.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.